Gather ‘Round The Phonograph


I like to think that I appreciate music very, very much – after all, as a music licensor, it’s my job. So when I plucked the Music Appreciation badge from the hat as my November project, I was initially disappointed; I already spend at least nine hours of the day with headphones strapped to my head – what else do you want from me, world?

However, this is Music Appreciation with a capital M, capital A, launching me into the world of strings and arpeggios, quartets and woodwinds. In the list of badge requirements, the word “symphony” appears six times, the word “opera,” five, and “librettist,” once.

What the hell is a librettist?!

It suffices to say, I have some learning to do.


#1. Choose one of the following kinds of music and listen to it over a period of several months: piano, violin, or other solo music; church music; chamber music; symphonic music. Keep a listener’s log of what you hear.

Webster’s Dictionary defines “several” as “more than two but fewer than many.” Well, that’s a bit broad, so for sanity’s sake, let’s just go with three months. For ninety days, I’ll track my thoughts about (mostly) symphonic music on a beautifully mundane spreadsheet I created in Google Docs. Since I’m lacking in technical know-how when it comes to symphonic music, you’ll likely read a lot of things (at least at the beginning) that sound like this:

“This makes me think I should really listen to a lot more of this type of music. More film scores. That kinda thing. So pretty!”

 – Shawnté Salabert on Alan Gilbert conducting Mahler’s 5th Symphony

Thankfully, I have a feeling that my knowledge of symphonic music and its related terminology will only grow (and become slightly more eloquent) as this project goes on. In the meantime, I’m going to study up on Musical Notation, As Described By Cats to really hone in on this stuff.


#9. Make a list of records you would buy if you were making a collection that would represent several types of music, instruments, composers, and performers.

I like to imagine those preteen Girl Scouts of 1947 scribbling lists of must-have albums that included chart-toppers like Dorothy Shay Sings, Al Jolson Souvenir Album, and Glenn Miller Masterpieces Vol. II, then gathering their girlfriends around the phonograph, sprawled out on their bellies, chins resting in their hands, bobbing their heads to the dreamy, optimistic sounds of post-war Americana.

For me, the listening environment is usually the slate gray confines of my 2005 Honda Civic, Maxine, during my endless commute, or in my living room via my turntable, whilst pinned down on the couch by my five hundred pound feline, Eddie Cat Halen. My “must-have” list is in constant growth mode and currently includes:

  • Vinyl of Bernard Herrmann’s score to Alfred Hitchcock’s North By Northwest   As you’ll read in future posts, Herrmann’s work for Hitchcock’s films served as my introduction to symphonic music, and the Overture from NXNW remains my favorite piece of soundtrack music in the history of EVER.
  • Sharon Van Etten’s Tramp   This is a case of I Never Buy New Music Because I Am Constantly Listening To Other Kinds Of New Music For My Job-itis. Must rectify.
  • Indigo Girls’ Swamp Ophelia    I owned this in college, but gave it to a friend after my car swallowed her copy. I still have all of my old Ani DiFranco, Sarah McLachlan, and Jewel CDs, though – fear not, the spirit of Lilith Fair is alive and well in my home.
  • Ryan Adams’ Heartbreaker    I think I have this entire album in bits and pieces on various mixtapes (remember those?), but never got around to holding it in my paws in one piece.
  • Laura Marling’s Once I Was An Eagle    My friend-boss is obsessed with her music and it’s playing in his car and home nearly every time I’m in either of those places. Now I want to listen to it in my car and home.
  • Kurt Vile’s Wakin On A Pretty Daze    Smoke Ring For My Halo is one of my über-favorite albums of all time and it’s a rare occasion that I’m on a drive of more than two hours and it doesn’t get slipped into the CD player. See Sharon Van Etten’s Tramp above for the reason why I don’t yet own his newest.
  • Anything by Nina Simone on vinyl   Voices like this are why audiophiles still (rightly) cling to vinyl. I have a smattering of Nina on CD, but I want to hear her belt out “Mississippi Goddamn” and have that luxurious voice fill the room.
  • Every single volume of MTV’s Party To Go series When MC Hammer, Suzanne Vega, Digital Underground, and Depeche Mode all coexist on the same album, you know you have a winner. Don’t judge.

What’s on YOUR list, people of the interwebs?


  1. lunasealife · ·

    I dream of having a vinyl collection once I am no longer a nomad. I want Weekend Player’s Pursuit of Happiness on wax. And As by Stevie Wonder. And Jackie Wilson.

    I can’t wait to find out what a librettist is. Improvisationalist? I will refrain from googling!

  2. I love my little collection of vinyl, especially because much of it was given to me by friends 🙂 There’s something warm and cozy about it…and I like that playing records requires you to be present for the process, because eventually, that slab o’ vinyl is going to need to be flipped! Next time you’re in town, come on over for some 60s and 70s soul jams 🙂 (And stay tuned…I shall drop some knowledge on “librettists” soon!)

  3. Katie Thompson · ·

    My brother gave me a record player for Christmas a couple of years ago and it has been a real source of joy in my life since then. I usually go for the dollar bin in the record store, though, snatching up old copies of Bob Segar, Billy Joel, Led Zeppelin, and Wings. And I agree that there really is something nice about having to stick around for the listening of a record. And they’re the best at parties.

  4. I love my record player! I find that because of the dollar bin, I listen to things that I might not normally grab – soooo much old soul!

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